Fifty schools await fate in elite standoff

February 21, 2003

The fate of 50 departments in a dozen universities hangs on the resolution of a standoff between ministers and their higher education advisers on how to select a new research elite.

Last month's white paper demanded that some top-rated departments be elevated to a new 6* status with a three-year "uplift in funding".

Ministers are due to choose within a week between two methods of selecting them.

A reluctant Higher Education Funding Council for England is backing a scheme that would require evidence of a decade of sustained excellence in research.The alternative, championed by the government, would give priority to concentrations of top-ranked researchers.

Under the Hefce plan, the new rating would be restricted to departments that gained the top 5* grade in both the 2001 and 1996 research assessment exercises. But more universities would benefit from the proposal to reward 5* departments that entered 95 per cent or more of their staff in the most recent exercise.

Some 100 departments in 33 universities would be rated 6* if the "double-first" criterion was used. Cambridge and Oxford universities would have 22 and 19 such departments respectively, followed by University College London with seven, Imperial College London and King's College London with five and Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester universities with four.

Under the "5*A" proposals, 150 departments in 43 institutions would benefit. Cambridge and Oxford would have 23 and 16 departments rated 6*, followed by UCL with 11 and the University of Bristol with ten, King's with seven and the London School of Economics with six. Durham and Sheffield universities would each have five.

If the double-first method was used, Imperial would come fourth in the league table with six 6* departments while Bristol would come joint 15th with one. Under the 5*A method, Imperial would come joint 13th with three 6* departments, while Bristol would come joint third with ten. (Full details below).

The money will be allocated in a fortnight and given to universities in the summer. The methodology for identifying 6* departments would be used only for one year.

Last week, higher education minister Margaret Hodge told the education and skills select committee that 6* departments would not be fixed retrospectively. She also said that RAE panels might have to be reconvened.

The THES this week contacted the 60 chairs of the panels that judged the 2001 RAE. Most foresaw problems with reconvening the panels.

Michael Prestwich of Durham University, who chaired the history panel, said: "The proposal is bizarre. Research assessment was carried out on the basis of criteria that had been agreed with the academic community, and to revisit it with a new agenda would be unfair and unacceptable." But he added that if 6* departments were to be singled out, it should be done on a peer-review basis by academics rather than by an outside body.

A review of research assessment by Sir Gareth Roberts, president of Wolfson College, Oxford, does not contain proposals for a 6* rating. The system is due to be introduced in 2008.

How universities would be ranked using two different 6* models
(Data source Hefce/RAE)

Institution

5*A
(2001)

      

Institution

Double 5*
(1996+2001)

Cambridge

23

 

Cambridge

22

Oxford

16

 

Oxford

19

UCL

11

 

UCL

7

Bristol

10

 

Imperial College London

6

King's College London

7

     

King's College London

5

LSE

6

Birmingham

4

Durham

5

Manchester

4

Sheffield

5

Leeds

4

Birmingham

4

Sheffield

3

Nottingham

4

LSE

2

Southampton

4

York

2

Imperial College London

3

Essex

2

Manchester

3

Lancaster

2

Reading

3

Bristol

1

Surrey

3

Durham

1

Bath

2

Southampton

1

Birkbeck

2

Nottingham

1

East Anglia

2

Surrey

1

Essex

2

Reading

1

Institute of Cancer Research

2

Salford

1

Leeds

2

Royal Holloway

1

Liverpool

2

Liverpool

1

Queen Mary London

2

Institute of Cancer Research

1

Royal Holloway

2

East Anglia

1

Salford

2

Bath

1

York

2

LBS

1

Bradford

1

Institute of Latin American Studies

1

Courtauld Institute of Art

1

Institute of Germanic Studies

1

Exeter

1

Institute of Classical Studies

1

Goldsmiths

1

Courtauld Institute of Art

1

Institute of Classical Studies

1

Umist

1

Institute of Germanic Studies

1

Soas

1

Institute of Latin American Studies

1

Birkbeck

-

Kent

1

Bradford

-

Keele

1

Exeter

-

Lancaster

1

Goldsmiths

-

LBS

1

Keele

-

Loughborough

1

Kent

-

Newcastle

1

Loughborough

-

Oxford Brookes

1

Newcastle

-

Warburg Institute

1

Oxford Brookes

-

Warwick

1

Queen Mary London

-

Soas

-

Warburg Institute

-

Umist

-

Warwick

-

     

Comparison with other UK regions

Institution

      5*A      
(2001)

    

Institution

Double 5*
(1996+2001)

Cardiff

6

Edinburgh

2

Edinburgh

5

Cardiff

1

Bangor

2

Herriot Watt

1

Aberystwth

2

Queens Belfast

1

Herriot Watt

1

St Andrews

1

St Andrews

1

Swansea

1

Ulster

1

Ulster

1

Aberdeen

1

Aberdeen

-

Glasgow

1

Aberystwth

-

Swansea

-

Bangor

-

Queens Belfast

-

Glasgow

-

 

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